Make No Mistake About It: Brighton and Hove Albion FC Is in Deep Trouble
On the 9th March, and Chris Hughton was clapping his Brighton players off the pitch after a galvanising Saturday lunchtime victory over rivals Crystal Palace. The 2-1 victory was not without controversy – or good fortune for the Seagulls – but it was a hard-fought, deserved victory.
The sense around Selhurst Park from the travelling away fans was that they were moving away from relegation trouble. For the briefest of moments before the 3pm kick-offs, Brighton were eight points ahead of the relegation zone, with a game in hand over 18th place Cardiff. The fact that a FA Cup quarter final was due up the next week meant that fans were looking up and forward, not over their shoulder.
Five weeks later, and Brighton remains stuck on the same points tally, whereas Cardiff have made up ground to get within striking distance. Two points now separate the sides after the Bluebirds raided the Amex Stadium with a 2-0 victory on Tuesday night. Sure, Brighton still have that game in hand, but it will be worthless if they continue in this rotten form. Since that win over Crystal Palace, Brighton have lost every game without hitting the back of the net.
Bournemouth defeat hurt players
To make matters worse, the home defeats to Cardiff, Southampton and Bournemouth, the latter of which was a crushing 5-0 humiliation, would have been down on Hughton’s “must-win, should-win” tally-book. The five remaining fixtures are: Wolves, Tottenham, Arsenal, Newcastle, Manchester City. That does not look particularly inviting for a team in such shaky form. Moreover, the likes of Southampton, Burnley and Newcastle have seen themselves in good form, moving away from trouble at the same time as Brighton have been sucked into it.
On the positive side, UK bookmakers are still very confident of Brighton’s chances of avoiding the drop. Betfair have priced Cardiff as the 4/11 favourites to head to the Championship (Huddersfield and Fulham’s relegation is already confirmed), whereas Brighton are priced at 5/2. Southampton and Burnley, who could still go down in theory, are priced at 300/1 and 325/1 respectively. The reverse side of the market sees Brighton priced at just 1/6 to stay up.
Hughton favourite for next managerial exit
While Brighton fans will be happy with how their team’s chances are rated by bookmakers, they will all be in agreement that the team is staggering through a rough patch. Indeed, Chris Hughton has been cited as the 4/1 favourite by Betfair to be the next Premier League manager to leave his post, a considerable distance ahead of Maurizio Sarri (14/1) and Neil Warnock (18/1). That would have been almost unthinkable just a few weeks ago when he was winning the Manager of the Month award.
It’s perhaps not fair to speculate on Hughton’s future with Brighton. The 60-year-old has been integral to the club’s success in recent years. He is still well-regarded by the fans, but Hughton will be acutely aware that the ground could shift under him if the season continue to follow this downward trajectory. Put simply, if Brighton do end up being relegated, there is a fair chance they will be looking for a new manager in the summer.
However, even if there is a relegation, the structures of the club seem sound enough for Brighton to bounce back quickly enough. Certainly, there isn’t the underlying malaise that saw clubs like Portsmouth and Sunderland come undone after exiting the Premier League. Still, what Bloom, Hughton and the team would give for 5 or 6 more points and the chance to address any issues in the summer while still remaining a Premier League club.